After last year’s trip to the relegation round, Team Switzerland managed to sneak back into the top-6 at the 2013 World Junior Championship, although this year they took a pretty unusual route to claim one of the four berths in the quarter-finals.
The Swiss were unable to win both of their crucial games, which would have given them the straight route to the playoff round. But they were able to battle themselves to overtime in three of the four preliminary round games and, despite losing three of the shootout games, still secured the extra point. Due to this bizarre situation in Group A, Switzerland was dependent on help from other nations, which they luckily received from the Czech Republic and Sweden, both of whom had defeated Finland, which surprisingly sent the Finns to the relegation round.
For the first time in years, the Swiss team was well and actively coached and played a real system with a game plan. Head coach Sean Simpson was able to assure that the team stayed disciplined and every single player stuck to the game plan. It seemed like Simpson was from time to time the most active figure in the game, as he was using every single moment, such as commercial breaks, to his advantage to remind the young Swiss of their goal and their game plan and how they should execute it in different situations.
After the two exhibition games the team played, Simpson decided to mix up his lines, and with the changes found the right combination to get the optimum effort out of his players. Switzerland was able to play every game with an aggressive forecheck based on a tight defense, with most opposing teams having problems with the way the Swiss played, allowing the Swiss to push teams like Sweden, Finland and the Czechs to the limit.
Most Valuable Player
Switzerland had one of the highest scoring efficiency percentages at the WJC, scoring 22 times on a total of 189 shots. As expected, the offense of the Swiss was led by the North American players, especially Sven Andrighetto. The diminutive forward displayed his high offensive instincts in all situations of the game, as he was among the main players for Switzerland with the man-advantage and on the penalty kill. Andrighetto mostly showed up when the team needed him the most by scoring several clutch goals for Switzerland, whom he led in scoring and also in shots on goal. The 5'10” forward has already signed a contract with Geneva-Servette HC of the Swiss National League A, although after two seasons in the QMJHL, Andrighetto is still looking to continue his career in North America. Andrighetto benefited from a good line-combination with Tampa Bay Lightning draftee Tanner Richard and GCK Lions product Mike Künzle, who brought much-needed size to Switzerland's first line.
Clearly the team's unsung hero is goaltender Melvin Nyffeler (pronounced NEE-FFA-LER), who , with his calm and solid play in the net, backstopped Switzerland to gain the necessary three points to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time in two years. Switzerland was mostly outshot by their opponents and it was thanks to Nyffeler’s composed play and his solid rebound control that they did not collapse. Head coach Sean Simpson started Luca Boltshauser in the first game against Latvia due to Nyffeler having to serve a one-game suspension left over from the U-18 WJC last year, where he was involved in a major brawl against Denmark. Still, the coach gave Nyffeler the chance to play in the second game against Sweden. Both goaltenders played solid, but based on the exhibition and the two preliminary round games Simpson just had the better feeling going with the smaller of the duo in the important games, and Nyffeler didn’t disappoint. The interesting fact in this again unusual situation in Group A is that Boltshauser was the only goaltender for Switzerland who won a game in this WJC, and also the one with the only loss in regulation when the Swiss fell to the Czech Republic in the placement game for fifth place. Nyffeler finished the tournament with four losses all in extended time.
2013 prospect to watch
Mirco Müller has emerged as the top Swiss prospect going into the 2013 NHL Draft, with the 95-born defenseman no doubt raising his draft stock with his performance at this year’s tournament. Müller was paired with fellow Kloten Flyers product Christian Marti, and the two posted the best plus/minus-numbers of the team, with Müller leading with a plus-7. The 6'3” defenseman played a stellar game, showing a beautiful combination of size, mobility and skill. Even at the highest junior level, you rarely saw him overreact during the play, showing the calmness and savvy of a veteran defenseman. He did not see any time with the man advantage, but has untapped offensive potential and is developing into a trusty, puck-moving defenseman.
Undrafted player worthy of a second look
Passed over in last year’s NHL Draft, Sandro Zangger was playing in his first under-20 WJC. The right-shooting forward is already playing his second season in the Swiss National League B with the GCK Lions, where he is playing a top-6 role. Zangger played a decent tournament, showing nice scoring instincts and soft hands. He started on the second line for Switzerland but sometimes had trouble keeping up the pace, which lead to Dario Simion taking some of Zangger's shifts. Sandro Zangger is a project, but has a lot of upside, especially if he’s able to get stronger and fill out his 6-foot, 185-pound frame.
Despite only one win, Switzerland played a great tournament. It actually is not fair to focus on individual players since it was clearly a team effort, where every single player fought for the other. There was not one single defenseman that stood out from the others, since all seven played a solid game over the course of the tournament.
For the first time in years, Switzerland was able to name a team with depth. None of the four lines coach Simpson formed had problems playing at the high level of the World Junior Championship, giving Simpson options that none of the Swiss coaches before him has ever had. But the difference between success and disappointment is very small. And, if not for the extra-points after 60 minutes, which the Swiss definitely benefited from, this review would look very different. The Swiss junior development system has improved, but Switzerland still is more of a top-8 hockey nation, rather than a top-6 nation.